Franco-British newcomer Stacy Martin plays the lead character, Joe, in her teens and twenties in Lars von Trier’s controversial and explicit “Nymphomaniac,” before Charlotte Gainsbourg takes over when the character hits 30 in the film’s second part.
At the film’s press junket in Copenhagen, the acting novice talked about hitting the big time with her first role and how Cindy, her porn double, made her feel comfortable. The film’s first part is now available on VOD and will be released in theaters Friday.
How did you manage to land the lead in a Lars von Trier film as your first film role?
It was very straightforward; I auditioned. I did two auditions in London, then went to Copenhagen for a screen test and met Lars, who was lovely and very calm. I never thought I’d get it because your first part won’t be a role in a Lars von Trier movie; you just don’t get to work with the people you so admire so early on in your career, if ever. So I took it very much as a workshop with the director. I went back to London after that and never really thought about it again until a few weeks later they said: ‘You’ve been cast,’ to which I replied: ‘Is this a joke, because it’s not funny?’ But it was true. And now I’m here.”
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Were you worried or frightened about taking on the role before you finally accepted?
I thought about it, yes, but I really wanted to do this movie so these thoughts sort of left very quickly. There’s very much nakedness and sexuality but Joe’s such a great character and that, as an actress, is what appealed to me. To have to play her was an opportunity I really couldn’t say no to. Being naked on camera is not something I do every day; I wear clothes. But it was a conscious decision to say: ‘This is Joe and as Joe, I’m honoring this part of the character.’ But that doesn’t mean it’s a film about being naked. As Lars said, it’s a ‘digressionist’ movie and all these different stories connect to build this universe that you’re watching.
Did you talk to your family or your boyfriend before signing on?
Once we’d discussed the nudity and it was clear there wasn’t going to be any sex and there was a nudity contract it was all pretty straightforward for me to say yes. I actually didn’t even tell my friends until about one month into filming . I’d gone into complete radio silence and my friends were like: ‘Are you alive? Have I done something wrong? Are you in London? What’s going on?’ I had obviously told my family before and my boyfriend was with me on the set.
How would you describe the story?
It is the story of Joe, who is a self-diagnosed nymphomaniac, from the age of zero to the age of fifty. But it’s also about a lot of other things that Lars loves and has put in the film, so it’s got this very ‘Lars’ feeling to it. There is nudity and sexual content, I’m not going to deny that because it is very obvious but it’s hardly the only thing in the film.
Filming material this risqué, can you be comfortable as an actor?
You body is your tool as an actor. A painter has his brushes, a musician his instrument and as an actor you use your body. We had a nudity contract and the porn doubles were there so everything was set up to make me feel comfortable. In the end, all the nudity and sex stuff is so technical it kind of becomes a mechanical thing and it stops being an issue. On set we knew that there were boundaries, so no one had to say ‘I don’t really want to do the sex, it was all very clear from the start. So we’d do the scene and then the porn doubles would come in, or we’d do the opposite. We’d have to do the exact same scenes, except that they are having sex and I’m not, so you have to actually mimic things and it becomes very technical. You sort of become a puppet since you’ve got to exactly replicate what she’s done. Well, what Cindy’s done (chuckles).
Did you have discussions with Cindy?
No, I was just really thankful that she was there, because that meant I could feel comfortable doing this film without having to worry. I was very open with Lars and said: ‘Lars, I’m not having sex in this movie, it’s important for me to be honest with you because it’s a difficult film.’ And he respected that. He did say that ‘We have to have a deal that if you’re ever uncomfortable, you’ll tell me,’ and I was like: ‘Well, I’ll have to because you can’t make this kind of movie if you’re uncomfortable.’ So Cindy was just sort of a blessing.
Since you share the role of Joe, did you talk to Charlotte about how you’d both play her?
No, we met before we started to film and had a little chit-chat but that was it, we did what we had to do. It was fine for me because the part I play, going from 15 to 30, Joe becomes such a different person. She changes a lot and she changes again when Charlotte takes over so to talk to her and try to do the same thing doesn’t really make sense. I’m not the same person as when I was 15 and I might not be the same person in ten years. So it was very important to honor those changes and that journey.
How would you describe her journey?
Joe’s quite a contradictory person in that sense that she’s curious and she’s not afraid. And she becomes more driven as she goes and she discovers herself, which is a very powerful thing for her. Joe’s very self-driven, she’s not a group person and quite lonely but not afraid of it. She’s also not afraid to not be pleasing for others; from that carelessness around other people she becomes her own person and builds upon that. She says later on in the film that love is just lust with jealousy and she’s looking for a more primal relationship with men. The rebellion starts in the group with the other girls but she later detaches herself from that and becomes her own person.
Why, do think, did Lars decide to make a film about female sexuality?
Why not? Lars writes about women very well. He knows a lot about women and I couldn’t write that well about women and I’m a woman. For Lars it’s also quite freeing to do it through a woman, it gives him more possibilities. But the film is all Lars, it’s really in his voice and his humor also comes out a lot. It’s a funny movie. Even in the quieter scenes you can imagine Lars smiling or laughing or going hmmm… The film stands for and celebrates female desire and not being ashamed of it. Joe might be addicted and it might not be healthy but at the same time she is a woman. It celebrates the fact there are women who have desires. Women before couldn’t show that. But she stands up for herself and her sexuality, which is empowering.
Can you relate to Joe or was that not really necessary to play her?
Joe, before we started filming, was a character on a page. Through costumes and a lot of discussions we manage to make her come alive. I didn’t particularly relate to her, though I admire her determination. As a woman it’s very important to stand up for yourself and to not be afraid and she has a lot of that. I did relate to her being young and discovering her sexuality, we’ve all being young and had those first experiences. So you have connections to the character, maybe good or bad, but we’ve all gone there.
How was working with Shia LaBeouf, who plays your main love interest?
He wasn’t reserved, he was very easy actually, very American. Everyone on set was very European and as soon as he’d come in we’d all notice and we’d go ‘What just happened?’ He really perked up the energy on set and was just really excited to be working with Lars. So there was an amazing energy that he brought to the set.
And your collaboration with Lars?
Lars gave me a lot of freedom. He didn’t really say: ‘Do this. Do that!’ The only real direction he gave me was: ‘You have to give a bad blowjob, Stacy!’ But the relationship we had was such that I could bring things to the table and we could try them and if it didn’t work we could do the opposite, which was absolutely fine.